THE ORIGINAL ART NERD
Nerding Out with Art Blogger LORI ZIMMER
By Meaghan Coffey
Lori Zimmer has an impeccable memory that is perfectly suited for her latest project, Art Nerd New York; she can recall a plethora of facts about an art installment within a subway grate in Midtown the second she walks over it. An art history scholar, avid walker, and city-explorer, Zimmer hoards fascinating tidbits pertaining to historical art installations and locations hidden within every corner of this city, and set out to share this recognition with the native New Yorkers who race past them every day. Zimmer worked at Sotheby’s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for a time, an experience she enjoyed and learned a valuable lesson from; “The art world tries to be snotty, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s New York City!” Therein lies Zimmer’s goal with the launch of Art Nerd New York—to make art installments in New York’s five boroughs seem approachable both to the savvy and the easily intimidated. According to Zimmer, art involves conversation, and through the descriptions of each site (which can be found by searching a specific artist, installment, or neighborhood), she conquers the balancing act required of an art blog that targets both admitted art snobs and the unintentionally naive. To Zimmer, art can and should be enjoyed by everyone—especially the residents and visitors of a city so infused with it.
I consider myself a “good” New Yorker; I know all the best pizza joints, I steer clear of tourist traps, and I can speed-walk like it’s my job. But the art world outside my window has always eluded me. It seems overwhelmingly inaccessible, exclusive—as though the pockets in which it lives speak a completely foreign language, and even if I were to make the effort to learn the basics, my shameful accent would only conjure up more ridicule from the native speakers. But scrolling through Art Nerd New York is calming; Lori’s voice, humor, and passion resonates in the write-ups on each hidden location. She not only profiles galleries and corporate collections, but also the hangouts of famous artists, past and present, the places they lived and died–proving that art isn’t only about the peices produced, but the places that inspired. Zimmer, the original art nerd, is woven into each piece, feeding in her personality, her affinity for art, her belief that art is all around us waiting to be found, and her determination to stamp out the snobbery that can accidently emerge and intimidate.
And, if all hope is lost and you just aren’t a natural art nerd like Zimmer herself (perhaps you’re just an old fashioned nerd, like me), you can grab a few facts to toss around at cocktail parties, and pick up some of the lingo to fit in with those natives. Zimmer’s here to help start conversations and reveal the hidden secrets of a city teeming with a scandalous history, and she’s achieving that through Art Nerd New York.
Meaghan Coffey: How did you come up with this idea?
Lori Zimmer: It just sort of happened. Over a year ago I started compiling data on art related things other than galleries and museum shows around New York without realizing it. It initially started when I’d see obscure public art, and wonder what the hell it was, go home and look it up–then later share it with friends. This started the obsession. I found myself in the elevator to the Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel, and was so entranced by the video installation inside–a piece called “Civilization” by Marco Brambilla that ascends into heaven and plummets into hell–anyway, I jotted it down and started telling everyone about it the next day. Then a friend who loved Lichtenstein came to town, and was psyched when I showed him the 70 foot piece in AXA’s lobby after a trip to MoMA. I read where a bunch of places Duchamp lived, and where Basquiat lived and OD’ed on Bond Street and found myself pointing it out to friends when we passed. It all happened pretty organically, and the more I sought, the more I found. I started an Excel spread sheet of public art, corporate collections, artists’ residences, fun architecture, subway art, lobbies with major pieces and art in bars and hotels. As expected, when I started researching each piece (yes, for fun. Yes, I’m a dork. Or rather a nerd), I found lots of good arty gossip, sometimes scandal, and great back story. So I started an ugly Tumblr with my findings and then it evolved into the polished site it is now. Then grad school friend and designer Lauren Albrecht approached me and loved the project so much she offered to design a fancy website for me. It is still evolving, but I love what is has become.
MC: Who is your target audience?
LZ: Why do art people gotta be so snobby? That is kind of what I think of when I’m writing. Art Nerd New York is for anyone who loves this awesome city, not just people who have studied art. I try to write in a voice that matches my personality–sarcastic, opinionated, educated, but also totally accessible. If someone reads the site and then gets into art, cool! If the only thing they take away is having a good story to impress their coworkers with at happy hour, then that’s cool too.
MC: How do you find out about the locations you feature?
LZ: Hours and hours of research. Some of the sites are from art history books, museums, and public art projects I did while in grad school. But honestly, many are just things I run into. I’m an incredibly overly observant person (mostly this is a good thing, but also means see a lot of people picking their noses or puking) and as backwards as it sounds, I spend a lot of time wandering the city taking notes, reading plaques, and asking questions. I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go and jot things down, so I don’t forget to write about arty things in bars when I’ve had five too many vodka sodas.
MC: Do you have a favorite site?
LZ: I could never pick just one. I love that Earth Room in Soho still exists, filled with the same dirt since 1979. I love to watch tourists freak out at the Max Neuhaus sound installation in Times Square, they usually think it’s a broken train or a bomb beneath the sewer grates. I love standing under Jean DuBuffet’s Group of Trees in Lower Manhattan, it makes me feel like I’m inside a coloring book. I could nerd about it forever.
MC: How will you expand the Art Nerd brand?
LZ: I want to Art Nerd the world! But seriously, I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to make this thing into a printed guide book, and have plans to shoot some short video segments. A total dream would be for Art Nerd to become a program on New York 1. Art Nerd New York will continue to be updated over time, but I also plan to expand to other cities around the world in the future.
Lori Zimmer is a New York based writer, curator, and art consultant. She has written for PMc, Inhabitat, ArtSlant, The Frisky, Whitehot, Modart, No New Enemies and various others, and has staged exhibitions at SCOPE NY, SCOPE Miami, Chashama and National Arts Club. She only wears dresses.
Lori Zimmer interviewed by Meaghan Coffey
Written and Edited by Meaghan Coffey
Photography by Coco Alexander
Design by Marie Havens
Lori Zimmer, 2012, Photography by Coco Alexander